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Abstract

This article explains why the Philippines continues to be a weak state and
that the prospects for building a stronger, sustainable state are dim under
the current political system. Philippine elections are won through a mix of
popularity, populism and money politics. This seriously undermines the
strength of the state since the oligarchy expects returns for their investment
in a candidates campaign. The extraordinary power of the president and
the ministers makes it possible to repay and buy the loyalty of the nancial
and political oligarchy by giving away jobs within the bureaucracy. A
predatory political elite, whose prime goal it has been to win the coming
elections and to assure that their family interests are protected and
promoted further undermines the independence and meritocracy of the
Philippine bureaucracy. I argue that as long as the current presidential
system continues to exist in the Philippines the chances for building a
strong state are slight.
Introduction
In the Philippines it is a known fact that patrons are needed in everything,
from the time one is baptized until one dies, to obtain justice, secure a passport
or exploit whatever industry.
1
This is what national hero Jose Rizal wrote in 1889 about his beloved home
country, the Philippines. The widespread corruption and nepotism he described
still applies in 21
st
century Philippines and has given the country an unsavory

This article represents an abbreviated version of the introduction of the MA thesis of


Bastiaan van de Loo titled: The Election and Presidency of Joseph Estrada: A Case Study of
Philippine Politics. The complete version of the thesis can be found on http://
www.thephilippines.org
1
J. Rizal, El Filibusterismo: Subversion. Translated by M. S. Lacson-Locsin (Makati City:
Bookmark Inc., 1996) p. 251.
The failure of the Philippine presidential
system

Bastiaan van de Loo


ASIA
EUROPE
JOURNAL
Springer-Verlag 2004
Asia Europe Journal (2004) 2: 257269
DOI: 10.1007/s10308-004-0093-9
reputation as a patrimonial oligarchic predatory state. In a patrimonial state:
Practically everything depends explicitly upon personal considerations: upon
purely personal connections, favors, promises, and privileges.
2
The adjectives
oligarchic and predatory underscore that in the Philippines the controlling
forces are not the administration or bureaucracy, but the economic oligarchy.
The oligarchies seem to plunder without any more regard for the welfare of the
citizenry than a predator has for the welfare of its prey.
3
The relationship between politicians and power brokers, a broader term for
the oligarchy that also includes members of the elite whose core activity is not
business, is established by providing the politicians the necessary nancial,
political and moral support during election campaigns. Politicians are well
aware of the expectations of power brokers who supported them in their quest
for ofce. By assuring that their allies within the political and economic elite are
receiving the rents, they can rely on their support in the upcoming elections.
The politician should repay his debt to the power brokers in the future in a form
acceptable to the donor, partly also because of the social characteristic of utang
na loob (literally, a debt inside oneself, but generally translated as debt of
gratitude) that is an imbedded value in Philippine society. Failing to pay or
expressing ones gratitude in an unsatisfactory way is the biggest form of losing
face (hiya), which Filipinos try to avoid under all circumstances.
Politicians should not be regarded as simply agents of the wealthy elite in
the Philippines. A political career is often initiated to protect and expand the
business interests of the family the politician belongs to. To protect the family
welfare powerful families have transformed their electoral ofces into lasting
family assets, building what Filipinos call a political dynasty.
4
Whether the
politicians are members of the elite or not, throughout their political career
politicians need to build, maintain and expand their network with elite families
in their city, province and other parts of the archipelago. Beside the elite
families there are dozens of wealthy businessmen who through rent seeking
activities try to protect their business interests against foreign and national
competitors. These rent-seekers are fully aware that for politicians holding
ofce is ephemeral.
5
In the zero-sum game that Philippine elections are,
politicians rely heavily on the support of the political and nancial elite. As will
be described in this article, this heavy reliance on the backing of power brokers
during elections prevents the fulllment of the main task of a politician:
representing his constituents.
2
M. Weber, Economy and Society. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), II, p. 104.
3
Quote of P.B. Evans, Predatory, Developmental, and Other Apparatuses: A comparative
Political Economic Perspective in the Third World State. In: Sociological Forum 4, no. 4.
December 1989. p. 562. Found in: J.T. Sidel, Capital, Coercion and Crime, Bossism in the
Philippines. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999) p. 146.
4
A. W. McCoy, An Anarchy of Families: The Historiography of State and Family in the
Philippines. In: A. W. McCoy (ed.), An Anarchy of Families. (Madison: Center for Southeast
Asian Studies University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993) p. 24.
5
A. W. McCoy, An Anarchy of Families: The Historiography of State and Family in the
Philippines. In: A. W. McCoy (ed.), An Anarchy of Families. (Madison: Center for Southeast
Asian Studies University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993) p. 24.
258 B. Van de Loo
The strength of the Philippine state
In 1988, Joel S. Migdal wrote a very inuential book about the capabilities of
states to achieve changes in society. On the basis of this, a distinction was made
between strong and weak states. Being a strong state implies that the state has a
certain level of autonomy from particular groups, whose interests do not
correspond with the interests of the government. Reading a Philippine
newspaper on any day of the week, shows that the Philippine government
struggles to control the affairs that take place within its borders.
6
The weakness
of the Philippine state is evident in almost any function the government fullls.
Examples of this can be found in the evident failure of the Philippine state to
monopolize the use of force, control and regulate the extraction of natural
resources,
7
reduce the painfully visible socio-economic disparities that exist
between the small elite and the large group of impoverished Filipinos,
8
collect
taxes from its citizens,
9
and combat corruption.
10
According to leading Philippine scholar Joel Rocamora, the Philippine state
has largely been kept so weak due to the absence of one particular unied group,
that it has beenable to bend the state to its will.
11
Withthis, Rocamora refers to the
fragmentation that exists among members of the upper class who formloose and
unstable alliances during electiontime. These short-termalliances are createdfor
the sole purpose of assuring an electoral victory of one of their political allies. The
6
For example the leading newspaper of the Philippines, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on
October 4, 2002 mentioned the following internal issues: Muslim terrorist organization Abu
Sayyaf responsible for bombing, Luzon police on full alert versus communist New Peoples
Army, corruption scandal regarding public works, bomb blasts prevented in Mindanao and a
kidnapping case. In: Philippine Daily Inquirer October 4, 2002.
7
The Philippines has one of the lowest percentages in government revenues as percentage of
the total GDP in Southeast Asia. In 1997 this was 14%, compared to Indonesia 21.3%, Malaysia
26.3% and Thailand 18.6%. In: Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia 2001 Yearbook. For gures
and consequences of the lack of control on natural resources see: J. Boyce, The Philippines:
The Political economy of Growth and Impoverishment in the Marcos Era. (Honolulu:
University of Hawaii, 1993) pp. 225-241. Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, Plundering
Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines. (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1993).
8
The government has been inept at nding a solution for the communist and Muslim
insurrections. Kidnap-for-ransom gangs, violent robberies, drugs, smuggling and corruption
within the police and armed forces, also plague the country.
9
The Bureau of Internal Revenue collects about 80% of all government revenue. To date, it
has not been able to match the collection efciency (measured as the ratio of taxes collected
to Gross Domestic Product) of its counterparts in the region. The highest its efciency ration
has reached has been slightly less than 13% (in 1997). Corruption is partly responsible for
this. The Department of Finance estimated that the total annual leakage is around 240 billion
pesos. The World Bank on its turn estimated that 50 centavos out of every peso that can be
lost to corruption (which includes evasion made possible by bribes). J. Edgardo Campos,
Commentary. Holding the Country Hostage. In: Newsbreak, 16 September 2002. http://
www.ingl.net/nwsbrk/2002/Sep/05/nbk 2-1.htm(October 29, 2003).
10
J. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998)
pp. 4-5
11
J. Rocamora, The Constitutional Amendment Debate. In: S. M. Santos, Jr. (et al.), Shift.
(Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs, 1997) p. 105.
The failure of the Philippine presidential system 259
impact on the Philippine political system of the reliance on the support of
oligarchic groups, of which the political elite is an integral part, is expressed by
former President Ramos: for the last 47 years, we have hada political system, that
has been too responsive to groups possessing wealth and power enough to bend the
state to do their will.
12
The elites undisputed economic, political and cultural
dominance has giventhemthe opportunity to protect andexpand their economic
and political interests at the expense of the strength and independence of the
Philippine State. In his book State in Society Migdal pointed out that in
societies in which social control is vested in numerous local level social
organizations the rules of behavior have been dictated by critically placed
strongmen- landlords, caciques, bosses, moneylender, and others.
13
A society
fragmentedinsocial control affects the character of the statethe prospects for
building cohesive states, which can apply their rules and policies effectively, are
not bright in societies with fragmented social control.
14
Through corruption,
nepotism and patronage the traditional Philippine elite has maintained their
power andinuence thankfully using anunderdeveloped state apparatus that has
close ties withthe oligarchy. This has causedSidel to observe that the Philippines
offers a classic example of a post-colonial weak state confronting a strong society
dominated by traditional elites.
15
This thesis will demonstrate that the prospects for building a strong(er)
Philippine state continues to be dim as long as Philippine elected leaders
fail to take a more independent position from the oligarchy that continues
to hold considerable social control over the Philippine state. By analyzing
the election and presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada it will become evident
that within the current political system, and predominate political culture,
politicians are fully dependent on the nancial, political and moral support
of members of the oligarchy in their attempt to make a successful bid for
public ofce. The Estrada Presidency demonstrated a sequence of events in
which the elected president not only abused the presidential prerogative to
express his gratitude to the oligarchy that supported him during his
electoral campaign but which also slowed down the process of building a
stronger state that was initiated by his predecessor Fidel V. Ramos. Before
we look at Estradas failure to contribute to the creation of a stronger state
in the Philippines, it is important to pay more attention to the weak-strong
state dichotomy.
Dunham observed that too often the success or failure of the economic
growth of a country is attributed to state strength. Dunham proposes to not
only look at the state capacity to take what he calls rm decisions, but also to
look at the sustainability of the reforms that go hand in hand with rm
decisions.
12
F. V. Ramos. State of the Nation, 26 July 1993. Ofce of Press Secretary, p. 4.
13
J.S. Migdal, State in Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 92.
14
J.S. Migdal, State in Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 93.
15
The original quote of Sidel was: the Philippines offers a classic example of a post-colonial
weak state confronting a strong society dominated by traditional elites and local strongmen.
Strongmen has been omitted since Sidel pays much attention to local politics and
warlordism. This thesis however focuses primarily on national politics. J.T. Sidel, Capital,
Coercion and Crime, Bossism in the Philippines. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999)
p. 10.
260 B. Van de Loo
We can look at what Migdal referred to as skillful leadership and an
independent bureaucracy to see whether the Philippines has had the capacity
for rm decisions to provide sustainability of reforms.
17
Failure of skillful political leadership
A short overview of political leadership in the Philippines after 1986 shows that
step one, skillful leadership has hardly been displayed by the elected
presidents. In 1986, after the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos, Cory Aquino
protected the re-establishment of democracy in 1986. Despite Aquinos
outspoken commitment to break with the history of corruption and nepotism
under the Marcos regime, Aquino did have difculties in being impartial when
it came to decisions affecting her relatives, supporters and political allies.
18
When Fidel V. Ramos succeeded Aquino in 1992, for the rst time an elected
Philippine President did demonstrate a level of independent, skillful leadership
that country had not witnessed since it gained independence in 1946.
19
During
his term, Ramos tried to create a stronger state by breaking the power of
certain oligarchic groups
20
and by enforcing more peace and order.
21
The
Ramos presidency was successful in making a start in reforming the economy
and improving the internal security situation. However, the capacity of the
Ramos administration to take rm decisions that would further weaken the
Table 1. Dunhams categorization of states on the basis of state capacities
16
Capacity for
rm decisions
Sustainability of reform
High Low
Strong Strong states Strong states but
unsustainable
Weak Weak states but
sustainable
Weak states
16
D. Dunham, State, Reforms and Institutional Change: On the Dynamics of Failure. p. 7
[http://wbn0018.worldbank.org/eurvp/web.nsf/Pages/Paper+by+David+Dunham/$File/DUN
HAM+FINAL+VERSION.pdf]
17
J. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998)
pp. 271-277.
18
The Aquino-era corruption is named Kamag-anak (relatives) Incorporated because of
corrupt deals and favouritism of Aquino and Cojuangco relatives.
J. Rocamora, Introduction Corruption in The Philippines, A Beginners Guide. In: S.S. Coronel
(ed.), Pork and Other Perks: Corruption & Governance in the Philippines. (Manila: Philippine
Center for Investigative Journalism, 1998) p. 23.
19
E.S. de Dios and P.D. Hutchcroft. Political Economy. In: A. Balisacan and H. Hill (eds.) The
Philippine Economy. Development, Policies and Challenges. (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila
Press, 2003) p. 58. With reference to J. Rocamora. The Political Requirements of Economic
Reform,. In: Issues & Letters 4(October) 1-4.
20
S.S. Coronel, Monopoly. In: S.S. Coronel (ed.), Pork and Other Perks, Corruption &
Governance in the Philippines. (Quezon City: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism,
1998) pp. 112-150.
21
Under his term peace agreements were reached with MNLF and the NPA/CPP.
The failure of the Philippine presidential system 261
position of the economic and political oligarchy was undermined by oldstyle
pork barrel politics and scandals involving persons appointed by Ramos to
satisfy political debts.
22
The accusations of corruption and nepotism seriously
debased the progress the country had made under his leadership.
To understand the current weakness of the Philippine State, Sidel
emphasized that one needs to pay attention to the institutional legacies of
American colonial rule.
23
A major institutional legacy of American colonial
rule has been the adaptation of a presidential type of governing system. The
Philippine president has considerable powers available to build an effective
administration that can be put into service for the attainment of the presidents
program of government up to the present time. However, Philippine leaders
(except Ramos) have not been able or willing to spearhead necessary
institutional and economic reforms. These reforms are necessary to bring a
stop to widespread and rampant corruption and nepotism, nd a peaceful
solution for the Communist and Muslim rebellions, reduce extreme socio-
economic disparities and invest in the countrys poor infrastructure. Due to the
lack of reforms and peaceful solutions of the insurgences the country is dealing
with, the Philippines has been called the sick country in the Southeast Asian
region for a long time. Another major problem is that under the current
constitution the re-election for an elected president is not permitted. Due to
these constitutional restrictions, the prospects of the sustainability of the
reforms brought about under the Ramos presidency were very low. Using
Dunhams categorization of states on the basis of state capacities it is obvious
that the Philippines falls under the cluster of weak states that is characterized
by non-sustainability of the few reforms that are actually initiated.
The most important factor for the weakness of the Philippine State and
consequently the failure of the Philippine government to provide the
environment that would foster sustainable and egalitarian economic
development is, in my view, the absence of, what I regard, as effective,
enlightened, independent and skillful leadership on all levels of government,
but most importantly, on the national level. This leadership is necessary to
break with the already accepted level of corruption, patronage and
nepotism. The costs of reforms will however be borne by the rich and
powerful families and social groups who have historically beneted from
their inuence over the political and economic system.
24
During their
political carrer the reliance of politicians on the support of members of the
oligarchy has formed the foundation of close reciprocal relationships that
22
Examples are the Amari-Manila Bay Scandal and the Centennial Scandal. E. Tordesillas and
S.S. Coronel, The Grandmother of all Scams. In: S.S. Coronel (eds.), Betrayals of the Public
Trust. (Manila: Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism, 2000) pp. 145162. C. Floren-
tino-Holena and Ian Sayson, Centennial Scandal. In: S.S. Coronel (eds.), Betrayals of the
Public Trust. (Manila: Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism, 2000) pp. 163181.
E. Tordesillas and S.S. Coronel, Scam. In: S.S. Coronel (ed.), Pork and Other Perks, Corruption
& Governance in the Philippines. (Quezon City: Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism, 1998) pp. 82112.
23
J.T. Sidel, Capital, Coercion and Crime, Bossism in the Philippines. (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1999) p. 143.
24
F. V. Ramos, Good Governance Against Corruption. In: The Fletcher Forum of World
Affairs. Vol. 25:2 Summer 2001. p. 14.
262 B. Van de Loo
exists between the political, economic and religious oligarchy. This
relationship prevents the necessary reforms, which will damage the short-
term interest of the oligarchy, will be implemented. The dependence of
politicians on the nancial, moral and political support from certain
factions of the elite seriously undermines the ability of elected politicians to
provide independent and skillful leadership.
The political survival techniques of the predatory
political elite in the Philippines
Once elected into ofce, politicians want to use government resources to
already start campaigning for the next election. To ensure that Congressmen
will win the next election, they have to express their gratitude to their
backers and provide their inner circle and constituents with jobs, gifts and
other favors. With over 8,500 new top government ofcials to be appointed
by the president, a president has considerable powers available to court
politicians. As important is the presidential prerogative to release govern-
ment funds, which a president can use to dragoon the legislative power into
docility and reemphasis that he is the grand political patron. For congress-
men the government funds released by the president to them are the air they
breathe. Without these public funds Congressmen would be reduced to sheer
legislators, which would mean the end of being the motor behind big
government investments in, for example, the infrastructure of the region they
represent. Thus, congressmen will insist that a president releases funds to
congressmen. If this money is not released a hostile legislative power will be
reluctant to accept appointments for the presidents cabinet, utter erce
critique through the media and charge the president and cabinet members
with malfunctioning, corruption and nepotism. Hence, a president not only
has to appease his backers through measures that conict with good
governance, but a president also has to accede to the demands of the selsh
Congressmen.
This starts with the appointment of cabinet members who in their turn are
forced to appoint recommendees of congressmen within their department.
Cabinet members are forced to do so because they are highly dependent on
Congress. Firstly, Congress has to approve their appointment by the president
and secondly Congress has to approve their budgets. Often a gentlemens
agreement is reached in which the Secretary gets his budget approved and
Congressmen get want they want: funds, the appointment of their allies and
kickbacks from business deals which come about through lobbying of the
congressmen. As a result, it is no surprise that the Philippine bureaucracy
has long been penetrated by particularistic oligarchic interests.
25
These vested
25
P.D. Hutchcroft, The Political Foundations of Booty Capitalism in the Philippines (paper
delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago,
September 1992) pp. 14. In: A. W. McCoy, An Anarchy of Families: The Historiography of
State and Family in the Philippines. In: A. W. McCoy (ed.), An Anarchy of Families.
(Madison: Center for Southeast Asian Studies University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993).
The failure of the Philippine presidential system 263
oligarchic interests prevent the presence of an autonomous and efcient
bureaucracy. This hinders the development and implementation of policies
when they are not in accordance with the interests of the president and his
allies i.e. that is the oligarchy.
The result is a continuous bargaining process in which the president has to
use all his available resources, especially the right to appoint and release funds,
to befriend congressmen to accept his suggested policies, appointees and way
of running the government.
26
Although the president is chief administrator
and has the right to re, hire and transfer government ofcials he is forced to
allow fellow politicians to nominate a large share of the bureaucracy. Migdal
observed that in weak states: allocations of posts reect the loyalty of
particular groups, the threat of other groups and the importance of specic state
agencies.
27
The prevalence of a traditional bureaucracy
Migdal has pointed out that an important condition for creating a strong
state is the existence of a social grouping with people sufciently independent
of existing bases of social control and skillful enough to execute grand designs
of state leaders. Bureaucrats of the state, both those at the tops of agencies
and the implementers in the eld, must identify their own ultimate interests
with those of the state as an autonomous organization.
28
The benets of an
independent bureaucracy are largely public in the sense that almost everyone
in society would benet from a more honest and competent bureaucracy.
29
Among development economists it is generally accepted that without a
capable independent bureaucracy, the execution of a long-term policy
towards sustainable growth is impossible.
30
The lack of enlightened political
leadership has enormous effects on the performance of the Philippine
bureaucracy.
31
A result of the dysfunction of the Philippine leadership has
been bureaucratic corruption, which has become endemic in the Philip-
pines.
32
Through the years the Philippines has suffered greatly under the
prevalence of corruption. The World Bank, in a study in 2000, said the
government lost about 48 billion dollars because of corruption over a 20-year
period and Morgan Stanley Research estimated that losses from corruption
26
The right to appoint government ofcials makes the committee on appointments in
Congress one of the most wanted committees. Once elected into this committee,
Congressmen are able to improve their bargaining position vis a` vis the president.
27
J.S. Migdal, State in Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) pp. 7778.
28
J. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998)
p. 274.
29
B. Geddes, Politicians Dilemma: Building State Capacity in Latin America. (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1994) p. 27.
30
See for example: John Brohman, Popular Development. Rethinking the Theory & Practice of
Development (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).
31
G. Sosmena, Concept of Bureaucratic Sedition. NDCP occasional papers: Quezon City, June
1999. http://apan.info.net/ndcp/occasional papers/pdf/bursedition.pdf p. 36.
32
G. Sosmena, Concept of Bureaucratic Sedition. NDCP occasional papers: Quezon City, June
1999. http://apan.info.net/ndcp/occasional papers/pdf/bursedition.pdf p. 36.
264 B. Van de Loo
totaled 204 billion dollars from 1965 to 2001.
33
A large factor in the
prevalence of corruption in the Philippines has been the usage of the
bureaucracy by politicians.
In State in Society, Migdal emphasized that pivotal in the politics of
survival of state leaders in weak states is the usage of the bureaucracy.
34
In
states where the states leadership has only a limited reservoir of structured
support, the bureaucracy is used as a tool to repay debts of gratitude, buy the
loyalty of former enemies and share the spoils of victory with backers, family,
friends, former classmates and people from the same region. A major barrier to
the creation of a meritocratic bureaucracy is the presidents power to appoint
top agency ofcials.
The election of a new president will lead to a new round of giving away
jobs to supporters and providing rents to campaign contributors. This
decelerates reforms implemented by the predecessor of the new leader and
contributes to the deinstutionalization of the bureaucracy. When a new
leader takes over reforms will be brought to a basic standstill. The
observation made by Grindle about the shadow of the sexenio corresponds
to the practice in the Philippines.
35
During the rst two years the new
ofcials will be pre-occupied with familiarizing themselves with their new
job, start appointing their clients, friends and family members appointed to
government positions and assuring loyalty from government employees.
Only in the second third of the agency heads will show the willingness to
implement reforms and create new policies. This phase is followed by the
last third of the sexenio in which top governmental ofcials will fear not
only to identify themselves too much with the political leaders, but also to
implement policies that might create controversy and protest within the
bureaucracy.
Sosmena typies the Philippine bureaucracy as a traditional bureaucracy,
which has ve key characteristics: inward looking, parochial, powerless,
reactive and visionless.
36
On top of that Philippine public agencies are
exemplied by a culture of legalism, conformance, mediocrity, patronage and
corruption.
37
Up until this day the chance to receive a position within the
government and rise within the bureaucracy increases signicantly when one
utilizes personal ties with inuential government ofcials, Congressmen and
members of the business oligarchy. The recruitment process is only partly
based on competence, corruption is rampant (and widely accepted) and
suggested reforms by department heads are quelled by the civil servants who
33
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Corruption, http://www.inq7.net/opi/2003/oct/14/text/
opi_editorial-1-p.htm.
34
J.S. Migdal, State in Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) pp. 7184.
35
M. Grindle, Bureaucrats, Politicians, and Peasants in Mexico. A Case Study in Public Policy.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977). In: J.S. Migdal, State in Society. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001) pp. 8687.
36
G. Sosmena, Concept of Bureaucratic Sedition. NDCP occasional papers: Quezon City, June
1999. http://apan-info.net/ndcp/occasional papers/PDF/bursedition.pdf p. 43.
37
G. Sosmena, Concept of Bureaucratic Sedition. NDCP occasional papers: Quezon City, June
1999. http://apan-info.net/ndcp/occasional_papers/PDF/bursedition.pdf pp. 3236.
The failure of the Philippine presidential system 265
will not hesitate to accuse reformers with corruption, malpractice and
nepotism.
38
It can therefore be no surprise that competent, honest and
motivated state employees do not dominate the Philippine bureaucracy,
which undermines the chances for sustainable reforms.
39
Against the
backdrop of the outline of the weakness of the Philippine state, the lack of
skillful political leadership and the absence of an independent meritocratic
bureaucracy the following chapters will provide a case study of how the
dynamics of Philippine electoral politics form the major obstacles in
becoming a stronger state.
The election and presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada
(19982001)
In 1969 Scott published an article with the title Corruption, Machine Politics
and Political Change in which the Philippines was mentioned several times as
an example of a country where the political machinery dominated the political
arena.
40
This is best characterized by the nature of the cement binding leaders
and followers.
41
The use by politicians of their elective position to repay their
backers and sow the conditions for remaining in power, is in congruence with
Scotts observation that politicianshave increasingly made use of the
available patronage (not to mention licenses, contracts, franchises) to maintain
their electoral strength.
42
To maintain heir electoral strength politicians need
to align themselves with those numbers of the oligarchy who cannot only
provide them with nancial means, but also with those members of the
oligarchy who have command over the necessary connections to bring into
action a network of people willing to support the candidate. By looking at the
election and the presidency Joseph Ejercito Estrada it will become obvious that
his observations remain relevant for contemporary Philippine politics since
they will show in detail that the machine politician (Estrada) could be viewed
as broker who, in return for nancial assistance from wealthy elites, promoted
their policy interests when in ofce.
43
The 1998 presidential election campaign had hardly anything to do with a
contest between political ideologies and political programs. Estradas campaign
38
See for example: Defensor-Santiagos experience with the bureaucracy in the Bureau of
Immigration and Deportation and the Department of Agrarian Reform. M. Defensor
Santiago, Cutting Edge. The Politics of Reform in the Philippines. (Mandaluyong City: Woman
Today Publications, 1995).
39
This is also a common complaint heard in the business sector connections reign over
qualities.
40
J. C. Scott, Corruption, Machine Politics and Political Change, In: The American Political
Science Review. Vol. 63, No. 4 December, 1969, p. 1148.
41
J. C. Scott, Corruption, Machine Politics and Political Change, In: The American Political
Science Review. Vol. 63, No. 4 December, 1969, p. 1144.
42
J. C. Scott, Corruption, Machine Politics and Political Change, In: The American
Political Science Review. Vol. 63, No. 4 December, 1969, p. 1152.
43
Non-Italics, Estrada, added by the author. J. C. Scott, Corruption, Machine Politics and
Political Change, In: The American Political Science Review. Vol. 63, No. 4 December, 1969,
p. 1144.
266 B. Van de Loo
in particular was focused on wooing the support of the masses or as Scott
called it the little man.
44
Estradas political strategists and backers were
aware that a large share of the Philippine electorate had become so dissatised
and estranged from the ruling political elite, that the masa (the poor and
undereducated also called masses) were looking for a change in leadership.
Estradas handlers designed a campaign strategy that reected Estradas pro-
poor image that he had built up throughout his movie career. Central in the
campaign was Estradas campaign slogan Erap for the poor that succeeded in
inspiring the masses with the hope that Estrada would be the president of and
for the masses. However, from day one the Estrada administration become
identied with corruption, nepotism, political inghting, weak leadership and
lack of vision. Despite repeating the message that Estrada was for the poor,
there were hardly any real efforts to implement the ambitious program of
government that was aimed to uplift the living conditions of the poor. Instead
of going into history as the president who truly represented the poor, Estrada
went into history as the rst Philippine president against whom an
impeachment trial was initiated. On November 13 2000, after two years in
ofce, the House of Representatives initiated an impeachment trial against
President Estrada on charges of Bribery, Graft and Corrupt Practices, Betrayal
of Public Trust and Culpable violation of the Constitution.
45
After days of
street protests mostly by college students, members of the middle and upper
class, civil society, religious groups and opposition politicians (groups that did
not cast a vote for Estrada in 1998), the military and police withdrew their
support for President Estrada. On January 20, 2001, vice-president Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as president and a few months later Estrada
was detained and charged with crimes that are punishable by death.
Conclusion
In his book, Filipino Politics Development and Decay Wurfel concluded that
In sum, an executive-dominated constitutional system facilitated intra-elite
competition, and almost never implemented policies contrary to the interest
of men of great wealth.
46
Now, as this thesis has shown, 16 years later his
conclusion is unfortunately still valid for the Philippines. The 1998 presidential
election was a pendulum for Philippine politics. A large share of the masses
placed their hope on someone outside the political establishment who directly
appealed to their grievances.
The prevalence of machine politics in which populism starts playing a more
important role should be regarded as a dangerous development. This
44
J. C. Scott, Corruption, Machine Politics and Political Change. In: The American Political
Science Review, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Dec., 1969) p. 1144.
45
The impeachment trial in the Senate was broadcasted live on TV and the whole nation
witnessed revelations of alleged fake bank accounts, bags of illegal gamble revenues entering
the presidential palace and dummy corporations owned by the president. The highly
politicized Senate never came to the point of passing a verdict on the accusations made
against the president.
46
D. Wurfel, Filipino Politics. Development and Decay. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1988) p. 328.
The failure of the Philippine presidential system 267
development will cause an even bigger division between the ABC classes on one
and the D and E classes on the other side. I am convinced that Filipino
electorate will continue to look for alternatives for the inept politicians who
continue to ignore the wants and needs of the country. This will mean the
arrival of more new political players who, just as Estrada has done, not only
heavily rely on their popularity and nancial support from segments of the
elite, but who also as Estrada did, will lack the knowledge and skills to provide
strong, enlightened and independent leadership. And so Philippine presiden-
tial elections will become, more than ever a popularity contest in which the
average Filipino will continue to be the biggest losers.
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